Monday afternoon, as I babysat my mother and my dad went grocery shopping, I tweeted a photo of an old deposition I had come across. It begins with a lawyer asking my mother, a Ph.D toxicologist who was testifying as an expert, if she wanted to be addressed as Miss or Mrs.
Her response? “Doctor.”
As I write this, it has been retweeted about 2,000 times — pretty good for a semi-regular Twitter user with less than 3,000 followers. I spent most of yesterday checking Twitter, and got a little teary each time.
My mom is only 69, but she has Alzheimer’s and it’s getting rough. Alzheimer’s used to mean she did things like repeat stories or put cash in the silverware drawer. Now she spends a lot of time muttering about “the bad people” who light her arms on fire (mom fidgets so much that she’s developed a deep bruise that she thinks is a scorch mark).
Last week, while my dad and I sat with her on a park bench, she started complaining that she hadn’t done anything all day, even though she’d spent the morning at the beach. My dad reminded her that she’d been out with Patricia (Patricia is a caretaker), and pointed to the sand and white dust on her shoes. Mom didn’t believe him. She said she wanted to call Patricia. Dad called her. That led to an exchange that went something like Hi Patricia, this is Kathy. Were we out today? OK. Patricia? Is this Patricia?
There ensued claims of a conspiracy, pleas to go home and a fit of tears that prompted a nearby babysitter to shoo a group of kids toward the other side of the park. In between sobs, my mom kept saying something is really wrong. Something is really wrong and I need to talk to my parents. Her parents have been dead for decades.
Talking to her is torture, because she’s usually crying and always confused. It’s good to keep her engaged, however, so Monday afternoon, after my dad left for the market, I tried to get her going by pointing out that she was looking very fashion-forward. Mom was in blue slacks and pink sneakers and had a jangling collection of wrist flare that included two watches, several bracelets and a silver band engraved with my dad’s phone number.
I said Mom you’ve got two watches on! That’s so awesome! She said I do have two watches on, as if this were some cheeky thing she’d planned out. It was cute, but then she went on with some nonsense and asked where Conor was (I’m Conor), and I got sad. Then she started knitting. Knitting makes her peaceful, so I backed off the conversation while mom relaxed in a La-Z-Boy and vibrated the living room with her humming.
That’s when I noticed a scrapbook on the coffee table. It was a gift from old colleagues, but I’d never seen it (my dad had dug it out a day earlier when she was feeling depressed and unloved). The book was a mix of heartfelt stories, inside jokes and pictures of mom in shoulder-padded blouses. Somewhere near the back, I found a 1984 deposition, the one where mom tells the lawyer to call her Doctor. I thought that was a pretty cool line, so I took a picture and tweeted it.
When it started getting traction online, I tried to get her into it — “People think you’re a badass!” — but she doesn’t really know what social media is. An early sign of Alzheimer’s came in 2009, when mom opened up a Facebook account. First she forgot her password, which seemed pretty innocent. Then came the afternoon in her office, when she sat at her computer and explained to me that Facebook had opened her an account. She seemed proud to be chosen for such an honor. When I explained that’s not how Facebook works, that people open their own accounts, she got fussy and pissed and said Well someone must’ve opened her one because how else could you explain all this stuff about her on the Internet?
So it’s not like the deposition retweets are going to make her feel any better about things. But that’s OK. Like all tweets, this one was all about me. My dad’s mantra is that mom is losing her memory, not her mind. That’s why we have to stick up for her, reminding her that lots of people love her and that she was once an accomplished scientist. But it was nice to remember, even in the cold language of a deposition, that she used to stick up for herself.